Static Electricity now said to be cause of fire
Phone Blamed for NY Gas Station Fire
UPDATE: New information gathered
since the New Paltz refueling fire occurred earlier this
week, places the blame on static electricity as the cause
of the accident.
PEI (Petroleum Equipment Institute) spoke
with the New Paltz Fire Chief Patrick Koch this week about
the refueling fire and he made available two new pieces
of information about the fire that were discovered after
an extensive investigation of the scene and another interview
with the victim, Matthew Erhorn . First, although the
motorist said that he chocked the nozzle open with his
gas cap (latch-open devices are not allowed at the station
in New Paltz), no gas cap was found at the scene. However,
a full Bic lighter was discovered two feet from where
the car was fueled. Furthermore, Erhorn later stated that
he reentered his 1994 Isuzu Rodeo during the refueling
process to look at his odometer and then slid out of the
vehicle to complete the dispensing process immediately
prior to answering his cell phone.
In view of this new information, New Paltz Fire Chief
Koch issued the following statement about the fire: "Upon
further investigation of the accident scene and another
discussion with the victim of the May 13 gasoline station
fire in New Paltz, I have concluded the source of ignition
was from some source other than the cell phone the motorist
was carrying. Although we will probably never know
for sure, the source of ignition was most likely static
discharge from the motorist himself to the
nozzle dispensing the gasoline."
PEI has been studying the issue of refueling fires and
static electrical discharge at the gas pump since 2000
and has never received a confirmed incident implicating
a cell phone at a gasoline station anywhere in the world.
For more information please visit www.pei.org/static.
May 17, 2004
New Paltz, NY — Matthew Erhorn, a student
from SUNY, New Paltz is recovering from burns after a
fire at a gas station while he was refueling his Isuzu
SUV. Matt believes it was his cell phone that sparked
the fire. If true, this would be the first case where
a cell phone actually ignited a fire. Attempts to contact
Mr. Erhorn were unsuccessful.
At the ESD Journal, we believe there
is a very remote change that a cell phone could start
a fire but it would not be from its own static charges
or its radio frequency signals. So many other things are
much more likely to have caused the fire. The cell phone's
radio signals do not have enough energy within them to
start a fire. The cell phone does not generate static
charges while being used.
Chief Patrick Koch was quoted as saying that the problem
was definitely a cell phone that caused the explosion.
A cell phone that was ringing, and which Erhorn, 21, answered
while he was pumping gas. At which point, the area around
the nozzle of the gas pump ignited.
Matt Erhorn was pumping gas into his 1994
Isuzu at the Route 299 Courtesy Mobil station at about
9:30 p.m. Thursday when he reached into his pocket and
answered his ringing cell phone. At which point, the area
around the nozzle of the gas pump ignited. The next thing
he knew, there was a flash of flame. He then threw the
gas hose to the ground and began to run.
If it hadn't been for some fast action
on the part of the station attendant, the explosion would
have been a lot worse. The night attendant inside the
convenience shop, Mohamed Taiep, triggered the station's
fire suppressant system. In a second, the vehicle and
everything else under the station's canopy was covered
with a white cloud of fire-snuffing chemicals that made
the station look like it had been hit by a snowstorm.
Chief Patrick Koch, New Paltz Fire Dept
said, "I'm positive today, that as of last night,
9:30 last night, I'm positive that a cell phone can ignite."
If true, The New Paltz incident is the
first recorded instance of a cell-phone flare-up at a
gas pump, according to Steve Fowler, a consultant in the
field of electrostatics.
Mr. Fowler stated that the chance of the
cell phone causing the fire is very remote. It would have
to have a battery problem causing overheating or rupture
of the battery which should have been noticed by the user.
The sparks which might come from a minor connection problem
(especially during the phone's ringing cycle) inside the
phone would be highly unlikely to have enough energy or
distance to cause ignition. The vapors would have to be
in the right place with the right spark to have an ignition
of the vapors. Mr. Fowler went on the say that the most
like causes of such a fire is static or smoking. If smoking
could be ruled out, then static is by far the most common
cause of such an accident. When gasoline is pumped through
the nozzle, static electricity is created. This static
is typically conducted harmlessly to ground by the connection
of the hose to the car. If this connection is broken,
there can be a static buildup, discharge and ignition
right in the vapor rich space around the fuel port area
of the car. For more information on this and other issues
concerning refueling fires, Mr. Fowler may be contacted
at 864-574-6415, email: email@example.com.
By assuming a cell phone caused the fire,
the real cause may be overlooked and be waiting for the
next time to ignite.
1. The hose at the gas station could have
a broken connection to ground at any of the many connectors
in the system.
2. The Isuzu may have a broken connection
between the fuel port of the car and the car body.
3. When Mr. Erhorn when reached for the
cell phone which was ringing, he may have broken the connection
of the nozzle and the car, or his hand and the nozzle
allowing a static discharge in the vapor rich areas.
Since Mr. Erhorn could not be reached,
we may never know for sure.
Many stories of cell phones igniting fumes
at gas stations began circulating in the media and on
the Internet since 1999. Those stories apparently came
from Asia, though investigators have not been able to
backtrack the anecdotes to the specific individuals or
Since then, a good number of articles
have been written that speculated on the subject, though
no definite cases have been uncovered. And some have done
experiments trying to create the proper conditions to
ignite gas fumes with a cell phone -- none of which appear
to have been successful.
Signs warning consumers to turn their
cell phone off while pumping were posted only inches away
from where Erhron was actually pumping the gas. These
warnings are due to a code which states that any electronic
device used in an explosive or ignitable area must be
explosion proof or intrinsically safe. Since cell phones
are not designed this way, the manufacturers must state
to not use them in explosive situations such as gas stations.
Mr. Erhorn's injuries were reported as
minor burns or singing to one arm.